PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Aaron Bradshaw heard the cheers on each rebound, each big basket — yes, even on a 3-pointer — from nearly four dozen friends and family members in the crowd, who made the Kentucky star feel like he was home again playing for Camden High School.
Bradshaw and the Wildcats took over Philly, from four area players in the roster, to the bulk of the 9,000-plus fans in attendance, to even scoreboard advertising for Lexington-area business that turned the home of the 76ers into a little slice of Rupp Arena.
Bradshaw celebrated his homecoming with 17 points and 11 rebounds and Rob Dillingham also scored 17 points to lead No. 16 Kentucky past Penn 81-66 on Saturday at the Wells Fargo Center.
Bradshaw added three blocked shots and a steal in 29 minutes in just his second game of the season after he missed seven games with a foot injury.
“Somebody told me to sub him,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “I'm like, are you out of your mind? Are you watching this?”
The Wildcats (7-2) bounced back from last week’s loss to UNC-Wilmington in front of a decisive Big Blue crowd. Playing outside of Rupp Arena for only the second time this season, Kentucky was still the home team against the Quakers (6-5) that traveled all of about 4 miles for the game from its Ivy League campus.
Kentucky surely had the friends and family advantage. Justin Edwards is a Philadelphia native. Bradshaw, DJ Wagner and Kareem Watkins are all from across the Delaware River in Camden, New Jersey.
“It was a surreal feeling," of playing near home, Bradshaw said. “I was just having fun out there.”
Antonio Reeves, who scored 16 points, pushed aside pesky Penn with a pair of buckets and a 3-pointer with 7:34 left during a 9-0 run that made it 70-57 and had Big Blue dancing in their seats.
Clark Slajchert led the Quakers with 17 points. Tyler Perkins scored 15 and Sam Brown hit four 3-pointers for 12 points.
“This is what we recruit to, these events,” Penn coach Steve Donahue said. “These kids are excited about this day.”
The Quakers already knocked off nationally-ranked Villanova last month — students stormed the court at the Palestra — so a blueprint on how to beat a Top 25 team was in place.
The Wildcats were 14-point favorites, per FanDuel SportsBook, but the only line that mattered in the second half was the 3-point line. Led by near-flawless 3-point shooting, the Quakers kept an upset threat alive for the bulk of the game until they were simply overpowered down the stretch.
Slajchert hit a 3 that made it 45-41 and Brown, the son of former 76ers coach Brett Brown, buried one that brought the Quakers to 47-46 and got a rise out of the roughly 300 Penn students behind the basket.
George Smith hit Penn’s fourth 3 of the half (on five attempts) that made it 51-49. The Quakers played the type of game that would have earned them easy Ivy League wins. Against the Wildcats, though, the Quakers could never take the lead.
Determined not to lose to a double-digit underdog for a second straight game, the Wildcats pushed back — Bradshaw hit a 3 for needed breathing room before the decisive run. With former Wildcat and current 76ers star Tyrese Maxey watching from courtside, Bradshaw put the finishing touches on the win with a big two-handed slam off an offensive rebound.
Donahue said he wanted Penn to keep playing games against marquee teams at the Wells Fargo Center and pitched the idea of playing Duke, North Carolina or Kentucky. Kentucky said yes.
“I think John Calipari gets a bad rap about what he's about,” Donahue said. “I think he's a really good ambassador of our game. He was excited and thought, let's bring these local guys back and maybe it's a win-win for both of us. I didn't think it would happen, honestly.”
The Quakers host Howard on Monday.
Kentucky plays No. 9 North Carolina on Saturday in Atlanta.
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AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-basketball-poll and https://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball